Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather FawcettEmily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries (Emily Wilde, #1) by Heather Fawcett
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, fantasy romance, historical fantasy
Series: Emily Wilde #1
Pages: 336
Published by Del Rey Books on January 10, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love, in this heartwarming and enchanting fantasy.Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world's first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party--or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.
So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily's research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.
But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones--the most elusive of all faeries--lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she'll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all--her own heart.

My Review:

Emily Wilde is writing/compiling an encyclopedia of all the faerie species in the world. That’s not exactly a spoiler as the title does rather give it away. But what is a surprise and a delight is the story that she tells about herself and her world in the process of researching what will be a weighty reference tome.

Emily’s story isn’t weighty or tome-like at all – even if it does very nearly lead her to her own tomb as she finds herself in the midst of one of the stories of the fae that she intended to merely tell and most definitely not participate in.

Although, considering the vast amount of research she has done in her speciality, she certainly should have known better.

Emily Wilde, PhD, MPhil, BSc, DDe is an Adjunct Professor of Dryadology at Cambridge in this slightly alternate, early 20th century story of fantasy and academe. The alteration to the world is that the study of faeries and the fae has become a real academic discipline, similar in many ways to anthropology and/or sociology, because the fae are real in this world. Hidden, elusive, all-too-frequently dangerous, but entirely real.

Studying them has been Emily Wilde’s lifework for half her life, since she arrived in Cambridge at 15 and is now 30. But the academic tropes feel all too real, as Emily’s trip to remote, frozen Ljosland to add one last chapter to the Encyclopedia on the subject of the equally remote and equally frozen native fae, the Hidden Ones.

The encyclopedia is not just a labor of love, or even just labor. The whole point is for Emily to publish what will be the foundational reference work of her speciality and gain tenure in the process so that she can, in future, remain comfortably in her rooms at Cambridge and study to her heart’s content.

She’s tired of field work, she’s tired of being the lowest person on the academic ladder (adjuncts still get no respect) and she’s tired of dealing with people outside of academic circles. So she goes off to Hrafnsvik, the remotest village in remote Ljosland to finish the work. Alone.

Really alone because she offends the villagers almost as soon as she arrives. Not intentionally, but she’s just not good with people. Or small talk. Or letting anyone help her.

Which is when her best friend, chief nemesis and fellow dryadology scholar, Wendell Bambleby, appears unannounced on her rather Spartan doorstep in very chilly Hrafnsvik and proceeds to turn both her world and her research upside down.

He’s there to protect her from his kin. His dangerous and deadly fae kin. As well as, more than a bit, from herself. And does she ever need it!

Escape Rating A-: Whether readers will fall in love with Emily Wilde’s story depends a lot on whether they fall in love with the meticulous, misanthropic genius that is Emily Wilde herself. This is her diary, so we view nearly all of the events from Emily’s sometimes-blinkered point of view. So if you like her voice, you’ll like her book.

Emily seems a LOT like Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series. Both in her obsessive desire to learn ALL THE THINGS, her preference for getting lost in her books and her research, and especially for her inability to even see the real-life consequences of her actions – which I fully admit may come a bit more from fanfiction than from the actual books. But still, Emily is very much a Hermione grown up and slightly oblivious about other people.

Emily is also a bit of Regan Merritt from yesterday’s book, in that she’s not traditionally feminine and for the most part is totally okay with that. She’s used to taking care of herself and finding solutions for herself and most importantly, rescuing herself. She doesn’t fit into any of her society’s boxes that are labeled “female” and she’s at peace with that – if not always with her inability to deal with the unwritten social rules that provide a whole lot of lubrication in dealing with other humans.

It’s obvious from the beginning that Wendell is following Emily because he loves her – even if it’s not obvious to her. At all. On that other hand, it’s been obvious to Emily for quite some time that Wendell is probably fae and in hiding. What makes their interactions so much fun to watch is that he charms everyone – and she resents just how easily people fall for his charm – but he never attempts to charm her. Their relationship, in all its push-pull banter, mutual annoyances and attraction to the opposite, is grounded in who they each really are and not a charmed or better version of themselves.

I particularly loved that this is an academic fantasy that isn’t about dark academe the way that The Atlas Six and Babel are – even though Emily would probably make an excellent ‘Babbler’. At the same time, the story is rooted in some of the darker things about academia in the real world, that place where the politics are so vicious because the stakes can be so damn small. That her world’s academia feels rooted in the real even though the world is not grounds the whole story and lets the reader fully get aboard its flight of dark fantasy.

Because there is darkness here. Not in academia, but in the way that the fae intrude upon and exploit Emily’s real world and the real people within it. What makes Emily’s journey into dark places drag us along with her is that the mistakes she makes that get her into so much trouble are so very human and so much a part of her personality.

So many characters in fiction literally seem ‘Too Stupid to Live’. That’s never Emily. What makes her so easy to empathize with, at least for this reader, is that she believes she’s too smart to be taken in. And she’s almost, but not quite, right.

I adored this as I was reading it. I was charmed from the very beginning and that charm didn’t leave me when I turned the final page. Howsomever, now that I’ve had some time to think about it I’m wondering a bit about exactly how Emily’s and Wendell’s relationship is going to work in the future. He’s essentially immortal and she’s absolutely not. Whether he’s remotely capable of being faithful is a seriously open question. There’s a significant power imbalance just on the academic side even without him being fae. So I’m left with a whole encyclopedia full of questions.

Which means that I’m very pleased that this is billed as the first book in an Emily Wilde series. Hopefully I’ll get to find out the answers to those questions in the not too distant future.

Review: Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne

Review: Paper and Blood by Kevin HearnePaper & Blood (Ink & Sigil, #2) by Kevin Hearne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Ink & Sigil #2
Pages: 304
Published by Del Rey Books on August 10, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kevin Hearne returns to the world of the Iron Druid Chronicles in book two of a spin-off series about an eccentric master of rare magic solving an uncanny mystery in Scotland.
There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.
But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.
The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

My Review:

The alphabet – any alphabet – is magic. Just think about it for a minute. Alphabets, whatever they might look like, represent the ability to communicate across not just space but across time. If you’ve ever taken Latin, you remember Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War, with its famous opening about “Gaul is a whole divided into three parts,” except in the original Latin. Which Caesar may have dictated instead of penned himself, but still, the idea that we can read the words of a person who lived and died not merely centuries but millennia before we were all born is, honestly, magic.

And that’s the kind of magic that lies at the heart of the Ink & Sigil series. Al MacBharrais isn’t a wizard or a sorcerer or a Druid (more on that later) but he can do magic. With ink and paper and a special kind of alphabet called sigils. With the appropriate training and lots and lots of practice, Al can write letters that perform magic. Like a magical version of Doctor Who’s famous psychic paper. Or a magic that can temporarily give him the strength and stamina that he left behind in the sands of time long ago.

Not unconscionably long, just normally long. Al is in his early 60s, and while his mind may be as sharp as ever, it’s been a very hard-knock life as the normal aches and pains of 60+ years of living all too frequently remind him. But when he gets a call from the distressed apprentice of one of his fellow sigil agents, those aches and pains do not keep him from riding to the rescue.

Even if that rescue turns out to be in Australia. It may be a long way from Al’s printing and bookbinding business in Edinburgh, but he’s the only remaining agent without a wife, family or apprentice depending upon him to come home at the end of the day. Or the case. Or the encounter with an ancient monster who is literally shitting demons in a creek.

Along with a deity who is holding his two colleagues hostage. Not to get to Al, but to make sure that someone reaches out and gets the Iron Druid along on what seems to be a rescue operation.

Only to discover that it’s a whole lot bigger and worse than that. But then, so are the gang of friends that Al brings along to one very weird fight.

Escape Rating A: If you love urban fantasy, but have wondered why you haven’t seen much of it recently, the Ink & Sigil series will remind you of the best of that genre. And if you haven’t read much of it, but you like the kind of story where there’s a detective, amateur or professional, a crime, whether mundane or magical, a whole lot of beings that popularly go bump in the night and the snark quotient turned up to 11, well then, this series has the potential to definitely be your jam.

It certainly is mine.

Al MacBharrais is a departure for an urban fantasy protagonist, as he is not young, or immortal, or unaging or actually either a magic user or a magical being himself. Not that he isn’t accompanied by beings who fit one or more of the above classifications.

It’s that combination of Al’s ordinariness with the extraordinary nature of the people he works with and the trouble they get into that make this series so much fun. It’s a view of our world through another perspective but one that is still grounded in our own. While his friend, associate and contracted servant, the hobgoblin Buck Foi, is there to provide comic relief and to give any authority figure – even a deity – a poke in the ego with a sharp stick whenever he feels it’s necessary. Which is often.

The story in this one follows multiple parallel tracks. Al is in Australia to rescue his colleagues, with the help of their apprentice. Al’s rather unusual friends are there to help, to guard his back, to have some fun, and, in the person of “Gladys Who Has Seen Some Shite” to see some really weird shit. But it also gives Al the opportunity to observe his friends operating outside of their normal sphere, bringing Al to the realization that the Gladys he has been employing as his receptionist is clearly something else or something more, altogether. Along with, but certainly not limited to, being Canadian.

And then there’s the bigger story, that when Al figures out just how big a mess his friends are in, he asks for help from one of the magical heavy-hitters, the Iron Druid formerly known as Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs Oberon and Starbuck. Al thinks he’s getting help with his problem, only for it to turn out that, in the end, it’s Atticus, now calling himself Connor, who needs Al’s help solving his.

That’s where things get interesting, also a bit, not exactly problematic but certainly at least deeper.

There’s never been any question that the Ink & Sigil series takes place in the same universe as the author’s Iron Druid Chronicles, it says so right there on the label. In the first book, also titled Ink & Sigil, there’s a lovely little side story about the evening that Al and Atticus met up in Rome and had a nice dinner together. It was a lovely little story, it set the time period for the new series nicely, but didn’t require that the reader have previously read the Iron Druid Chronicles to get into Ink & Sigil – it just made the story extra nice if you already had.

Now, with Paper & Blood, you really need to have read Ink & Sigil to get the full flavor of what’s going on in this second book. But with Atticus/Connor as an important secondary character, it will make a lot of readers feel like they need to have read at least some of the Iron Druid Chronicles to get everything that’s happening – and especially why it’s happening – in this book. I’ve read the first six books of that series (start with Hounded, it’s awesome) and intend to go back and finish, so I didn’t feel too lost when he became such a big part of this story, although it did make me itch to have read the ending of that series because it’s clearly part of the backstory for this. As much as I LOVED seeing Oberon again, I can’t help but imagine that anyone who hadn’t read at least some of the Iron Druid series would flounder a bit here. I hope I’m wrong.

So, this story provided a whole lot of closure for the Iron Druid Chronicles, provided Al with a lot more fascinating information about his friends and associates, engendered a whole lot of chuckles and a bit of outright laughter courtesy of Buck Foi, AND left me eagerly awaiting the next book in this series whenever it appears.

But I’m also holding my breath for the next book in The Seven Kennings, this author’s epic fantasy series, which seems to be titled A Curse of Krakens and is coming out a year from now. Obviously, this is a writer I really, really like and don’t care what I get next as long as I get something!

Review: Rabbits by Terry Miles

Review: Rabbits by Terry MilesRabbits by Terry Miles
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, technothriller, thriller
Pages: 448
Published by Del Rey Books on June 8, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Conspiracies abound in this surreal and yet all-too-real technothriller in which a deadly underground alternate reality game might just be altering reality itself, set in the same world as the popular Rabbits podcast.
It's an average work day. You've been wrapped up in a task, and you check the clock when you come up for air--4:44 pm. You go to check your email, and 44 unread messages have built up. With a shock, you realize it is April 4th--4/4. And when you get in your car to drive home, your odometer reads 44,444. Coincidence? Or have you just seen the edge of a rabbit hole?
Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. Their identities are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself. But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past--and the body count is rising.
And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K--a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts or the whole world will pay the price.
Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

My Review:

R U playing? That’s the question that runs through the entire book. Are you playing Rabbits?

There’s a quote attributed to Mary Kay Ash – yes, the cosmetics queen – that goes, “If you think you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.” (There are also variations attributed to Henry Ford, but I like her version better.) With Rabbits, it’s more that if you think you’re playing, you might be, but if you think you’re not, you’re probably right. But whether or not you are playing Rabbits, Rabbits is definitely playing you. You just don’t know it. By the time you do know, it’s too late. Too late for you, and possibly too late for the rest of us as well.

If you’re a bit confused by the above, you’re not alone. And you’re not supposed to be. That’s Rabbits.

What is certain, for select, certain, Rabbits-induced values of certainty, is that when the story opens, our protagonist K is not playing Rabbits. At least at the moment. Because the eleventh round of the long-running game – just how long its been running is a matter for serious debate – is about to begin but hasn’t – yet.

So K is in the middle of giving a somewhat roundabout introductory lecture into the world of Rabbits, being extremely circumlocutory because the first rule of Rabbits is that no one ever talks either directly or straightforwardly about Rabbits. He’s also passing the hat because being a Rabbits player isn’t exactly a way to make a living.

Winning is even better than winning the lottery, but the odds of winning are probably equal to the odds of winning the lottery if not, honestly, a bit worse. Very much on that infamous other hand, playing the lottery won’t get you killed. Playing Rabbits just might.

Especially if, like K and his friends, you’re asked to investigate why Rabbits players are dropping dead at even greater than normal rates. There’s something rotten in the current state of Rabbits, and K has to fix it before it’s too late.

If he can figure out what it is. Or where it is. Or even IF it really is. Without revealing much, if anything about what he’s really doing. Because the game might be out to get him. Or it might not. After all, it’s Rabbits.

Escape Rating C+: Rabbits (the book) is, honestly, fairly confusing. The book is supposed to stand alone from the podcast of the same name by the same author, and I’m not 100% sure that it does. I’m also not sure it doesn’t, but that’s Rabbits for you.

I think part of my confusion with the story was that it was presented to me as science fiction, so I was expecting it to be more SFnal than it turned out to be. There is a bit of true SF, but that felt like handwavium rather than being part of the meat of the story.

The story, at its heart, reads like a thriller. K and his friends are tasked with fixing the game before it starts its next iteration and even more terrible things happen. They are under a tremendous amount of pressure and absolutely do not know what they’re doing.

They are paranoid, but there really does seem to be someone out to get them. And paranoia as a state of mind feels like it’s a requirement for playing Rabbits in the first place. Which does a terrific job of ratcheting up the slow building tension of the entire story.

There were plenty of points where the book reminded me of Ready Player One, but that’s also a bit of a misdirection. The stakes turn out to actually be higher in Rabbits, but the game itself is a conspiracy theorist’s dream. Ready Player One, after all, is a game where the players know they are participating, and where, while they may not share tips and tricks with their competitors, discussion of the game is going on pretty much everywhere.

Rabbits is a real-world game, where obsessed people find patterns everywhere in everything (like noticing that once you buy a car you start seeing that make and model of car EVERYWHERE). Some of the patterns that Rabbits players see are part of the game, but some are just the mind playing tricks and some are simply coincidence and the players seem to have very few ways of figuring out which witch is which or even if there are any witches at all. (Mixing metaphors to the point of absurdity.)

So I finished Rabbits feeling not exactly satisfied. As a thriller the SFnal handwavium didn’t quite work for me. As SF, there just wasn’t nearly enough SF there. I liked the characters, but the story didn’t gel because of the handwavium.

But it’s fascinating if you enjoy stories that are chock-full of conspiracy theories, where the stakes are high and the characters are never sure which way is up. Or even if there is an “up” at all. If you threw Ready Player One, The Matrix and and the TV series Lost into an extremely high-tech blender fueled by whatever was fueling the Heart of Gold in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you might get something like Rabbits. Play if you dare.

Review: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Review: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, F/F romance, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Del Rey Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's Website
Goodreads

An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens her new home and her fragile place in it, in a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.
Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.
On this Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now she has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security.
But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

My Review:

The Space Between Worlds is filled with paradox and wonder, and resonates to the beat of butterfly wings.

This is a story of the multiverse, of parallel universes that are almost, but not quite, the same. Universes that are all post-apocalyptic, in one way, or another, or all of the above.

It’s also a story of irony, in that this is a story where the people that society has classed as the most expendable, are also the most valuable – but only as long as they are useful.

And it’s a story about families, and the infinitesimally thin line between love and hate.

The Space Between Worlds is a story about contrasts. The contrast between safe, wealthy and white Wiley City, and the dangerous, poor and brown wastelands that surround it.

Cara is someone who walks between the worlds. Because she is a wastelander, brown and disposable on seemingly all of the worlds that resonate enough with “Earth Zero” to be visited, she is mostly dead.

Not in The Princess Bride sense of “mostly dead”, but in the sense that most of the different Caras, the Cara on most of the 382 worlds that are close enough to her own to be able to be visited, Cara has not lived to reach adulthood. Or at least not reached the age that the Cara on Earth Zero has.

That paradoxically makes Cara a very valuable “traverser”, or traveler between the worlds. People can only visit worlds where their local equivalent has already died – and Cara has died nearly everywhere.

But she’s also someone who travels between worlds on her own world. At work, she does her best to fit into the sterile, safe, white world of Wiley City – no matter how little it looks as if she belongs there.

When she goes back home to the wastes, she pretends to still fit into her family, the religion that keeps them together and the violence that surrounds them.

But Cara belongs in neither place. Because she is not the Cara that the Eldridge Institute hired, and she is not the Cara raised by the family she has come to love. She is the Cara from another Earth who found the original Cara dead and took her place.

Because she is a survivor. It’s what she does best. It’s who she is.

This story puts that survival instinct to the test. Not just because she finds a world that she has a chance to save, but because saving Earth 175 gives her the tools to save the Earth she has made her own. If she is willing to take them up.

If she is willing to risk her safety, her secrets and her skin to discover exactly what she’s made of. If she’s willing to die to make things right, just once.

Escape Rating A+: This was awesome. A lot of my reading buddies recommended this one, and now I know why. It tells a fantastic story and there’s so much packed into it if you want to go hunting for all the possibilities, but the story has the reader on the edge of their seat for the whole ride.

The Space Between Worlds is very much a post-apocalyptic story. But it’s not the immediate aftermath. While those are fascinating because there’s so much chaos, it’s every bit as interesting to see what humans have made of the messed up world that other humans caused and left behind. Usually by dying.

One thing that caught me was that we don’t know where, relative to our current world, Wiley City and its surrounding wastelands are. And it doesn’t matter. What we see feels plausible, that enough of a city survived that it became prosperous again and gathered refugees around it who wanted to share in that prosperity and safety. Only to discover that the prejudices of the old world continued in the new. There are always haves, and there are always have nots who hope to become haves. And that the haves guard their position ruthlessly.

It’s very explicit in this story that the haves are white. Very, very white. Not just by skin color, although that seems to have been at the heart and the start of it, but also because of that ruthless guarding of privilege. Citizens of Wiley City live in a completely enclosed world. They don’t see the sun, they only experience natural light through extreme filters, because natural light can be dangerous. So over the generations their coloring has become lighter and paler.

The wastelands are exposed to all the elements. The brutal sun, the chemically destroyed earth, water and air. The dirt. They are brown of skin, dark of hair and eye, and their clothes are never completely clean because there is so much junk in the air and water.

One of the fascinating contrasts is the way that Wiley City takes care of its people, while the wastelands force their people to survive if they can and die if they can’t. At the same time, the two areas are trapped in an entirely symbiotic relationship, and they need each other.

And they are both ruled by an emperor, even if the “emperor” of Wiley City isn’t called that. And even if, in some of the Earths of the multiverse, the positions of the two rulers is reversed. Because in all of them they are brothers.

As fascinating as everything about this future world is, at its heart it is always Cara’s story. Caralee from Earth 22, who pretends to be Caramenta from Earth Zero but who only begins to figure out who she really is and what she really wants to be when she meets the one person she should never be able to meet, her doppelganger on Earth 175. They’ve all made different mistakes, the wings of the butterfly have flapped and blown them in slightly different directions, but their lives have all been wrapped around the same family and the same men, the two emperors.

But this time is going to be different, because Cara isn’t just going to survive, she’s going to fight. Once she figures out who and what she is really fighting for – and against.

This is, in the end, a story about choosing your battles, finding your path, and figuring out which version of your life is the one you can live with. And it’s awesome.

Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi NovikA Deadly Education (Scholomance, #1) by Naomi Novik
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Scholomance #1
Pages: 336
Published by Del Rey Books on September 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lesson One of the Scholomance
Learning has never been this deadly
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

My Review:

As an institution, Scholomance makes Hogwarts seem like a well-run – and safe – place to learn magic. As a story the Scholomance just plain kicks Harry Potter’s little adventures to the curb. And A Deadly Education – which it so very much is – is only the first book in what promises to be an absolutely epic series.

The comparisons to Hogwarts feel inevitable. And the Scholomance is definitely a series to read after Harry Potter – or perhaps instead, all things considered. But that inevitable comparison feels like it barely scratches the surface of what the Scholomance really is – if it touches it at all.

Hogwarts is dangerous because the students are learning magic, which is dangerous, and because the adults who are theoretically in charge are either pursuing their own agendas or just doing a really lousy job at running a school.

In the Scholomance, there are no adults. There are no teachers. The entire system is, in fact, dangerous by design. It’s intent is to weed out – read that as kill off – at least half of each incoming class before – or as – they graduate. The only exit from the place is either in a pine box or through a gauntlet of the toughest, meanest, nastiest, most vicious and bloodthirsty monsters ever to grace a nightmare.

Only the strong – or the magically well-connected – survive. The process is designed to teach the children of the elite how to be ruthless little Machiavellians, by throwing the magically talented hoi polloi in as servants and cannon-fodder.

In other words, underneath its magic and mayhem, its rules and its deprivations, this is a story about privilege. And it’s the story of one young woman determined to break the back of that privilege, not so she can come out on top – but so that she can survive with her soul intact.

Against every force that expects her to fail by either dying or turning into everyone’s worst nightmare – including her own..

Escape Rating A++: This story reminded me of so many things, most of them made awesome or awesomer by forming a piece of this marvelous, fantastic world.

We view the Scholomance, and by extension the world that produced it, through the eyes of Galadriel Higgins, a junior at the Scholomance. While El may be the heroine of this story, she’s not in any way a typical heroine. She’s more like an underdog, in a system that is designed to keep people like her permanently underdogs – right up until they get killed so that some Enclaver’s kid (read that as elite class) survives.

But El isn’t what she appears to be. Well, she isn’t all that she appears to be. And that’s both her story and her problem.

There’s something about El that puts people off. She knows it, and she’s reached the point in her life where she knows that the chill she sends up most people’s spines is something they’ll just have to get over when they realize just how awesomely powerful she is. In the meantime, she’s as sarcastic and rude as she can possibly be, so that no one tries to get close to her – where they can hurt her.

El is meant, destined by fate, to be the dark lady version of Galadriel the Elven Queen. The one who proclaims that “all shall love me and despair” right before she rejects the One Ring. Like Galadriel herself, El refuses to give in to all the power that fate has handed her to be destructive.

She reminds me of what Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld must have been like as a young woman. A young woman who was intended to be evil, but ended up being so sharply good that she cut everything in her path with that sharpness. Including, on more than one occasion, herself.

Something that El does to herself rather often.

But El is still young, and there’s still a soft gooey center under that prickly exterior. She wants to be liked. She wants to have friends. She’s just convinced that it can’t happen for her. And that she’ll die, if not of loneliness, than of all of the things that hide in the shadows of the Scholomance ready to consume any students who don’t have the protection of a pack, or a posse, or just, well, friends.

El, as the bad witch determined to be good, runs directly into the school’s hero, the young man Orion Lake, child of every privilege that El has never experienced in her entire life. Just as fate is determined to cast El in the role of the wicked witch, it’s determined that Orion will be the unthinking, self-sacrificing hero of every tale until he dies.

But he not only lives, he upsets the balance of the school. Because 50% or more of the students are supposed to die over the course of their education, and Orion Lake is saving many too many of them. There’s never quite enough food for the entire student body, and the monsters are so desperately hungry that they are breaking down the walls and wards that keep most of the students safe from the biggest and baddest of the lot.

So Orion will just have to save everyone again. And again. But this time, El will be there, not to protect him from the monsters – but to protect him from the other students who are determined to use him until there’s nothing left.

I said that this is a story about privilege, and that concept underpins everything. The system is designed for the elite to survive, and the system keeps itself going by holding out the carrot that a few, select members of the underdog class can become elite if they are strong enough, brave enough and powerful enough – or if they are willing to abase themselves for their entire school career in the hopes that they’ll get lucky and survive the monsters’ graduation feeding frenzy.

El knows that her best chance of survival is to get herself attached to one of the elite Enclave groups, but she can’t do it. Not that she’s not capable of it, and not that it isn’t offered, but that she can’t let herself do it. She knows she should get herself into a situation where life will finally be unfair in her favor, as it is for the Enclavers, but she’s seen just how rotten that system is and she can’t make herself part of it.

Instead, she does her best to not merely expose it, but actually to subvert it, knowing that she’s asking people to examine the very air that they breathe and discover that it’s foul even though it’s supporting them not just fine but actually better than fine.

I can’t imagine that she’s going to succeed, but it’s going to be fun to watch her try. The second book in the series, The Last Graduate, looks like it will be out next year. Based just on the very last line of A Deadly Education, it’s going to be another marvelously wild ride.

Review: Ink and Sigil by Kevin Hearne

Review: Ink and Sigil by Kevin HearneInk & Sigil (Ink & Sigil, #1) by Kevin Hearne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Ink & Sigil #1
Pages: 336
Published by Del Rey Books on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.
But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.
But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

My Review:

I’ve read – actually mostly listened to – enough of the Iron Druid Chronicles to know that I love the series. Since I’m 2/3rds of the way through I figured I knew enough about the world created in the series to be able to get into Ink & Sigil. Al Mac Bharrais’ adventures take place in the same version of our world as Atticus O’Sullivan, but from a much different perspective.

Ink & Sigil is a sequel that isn’t a sequel, it’s more like a consequence. Which is an interesting way of launching a series. Also an effective way for new readers to get aboard this marvelous train. So you don’t have to have read the Iron Druid Chronicles to get into Ink & Sigil, but a taste for one will probably result in a yen for the other.

Al is a fascinating protagonist for an urban fantasy series. Most urban fantasy series are headed by either the young and the energetic, or the extremely old, seriously immortal, and fascinatingly unaging.

Al is none of the above. He’s 63, he’s getting creaky, and he’s all too mortal. (I would love to see Al meet Marley Jacob from A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark. They’d have a lot to talk about when it comes to kicking paranormal ass when you’re 60-something.)

Al isn’t exactly a wizard, and he’s certainly not a druid like Atticus. He is actually a kind of paper-pusher for the paranormal. His power is literally in paper – and especially in ink. He draws symbols of power with special ink on special paper, and that power affects whoever sees the symbols he has drawn.

Among many other useful things, he’s created his own version of the “psychic paper” that Doctor Who uses. The one that seems to be a universal high-ranking ID for wherever the Doctor wants to get into that he shouldn’t. In Al’s case, the paper just opens the mind of the person who sees it so that Al can plant the suggestion that he belongs wherever it is that he has just entered that he isn’t supposed to.

Like the apartment of his just-deceased apprentice. Gordie seems to have died of natural causes – depending on how one feels about raisins in one’s scones. Al has arrived in the middle of the police investigation into Gordie’s death to clean house of all of the fascinating, esoteric and sometimes illegal substances that sigil agents like Al and Gordie use to do their work.

Al expects to leave with a bag of inks and ingredients. What he finds in Gordie’s secret workroom changes his focus – as well as his opinion of the late and now entirely unlamented Gordie. Because Gordie was practicing things he hadn’t learned yet, and seems to have been breaking all the rules while doing so. And he had imprisoned a hobgoblin in a cage – a hobgoblin from one of the fae planes that he intended to sell to someone nefarious in this plane.

Which is illegal, immoral, and constitutes trafficking of the nasty kind that either leads to slavery or lab experimentation of the mad scientist variety.

Putting Al on the hunt for a mad scientist and at least one corrupt fae deity selling out her own kind for either fun or profit. That she’s selling them to the CIA adds a whole ‘nother level of crazy complexity to a case that is almost but not quite too much for Al and his friends to handle.

Making it a fantastic start to this series!

Escape Rating A+: I fell straight into this book and just didn’t want to leave. Possibly ever. This is one of those books that I just want to shove at everyone I know and hold them down until they read it.

In that vein, I really, truly don’t think you have to have read ANY of the Iron Druid Chronicles to get into Ink & Sigil. Not that you shouldn’t read them, they’re awesome. Howsomever, while these are set in the same world, Atticus is not a character in this series – so far – except for the scene where those of us who have read the Iron Druid Chronicles discover how Al ran into Atticus that one time and they had a nice dinner together. It doesn’t affect the plot of Ink & Sigil, it’s just a lovely scene IF you’ve met Atticus before and it’s still a lovely scene if you haven’t.

What one does need to buy into in order to get into Ink & Sigil is the concept that lies behind, or underneath, both the Iron Druid Chronicles and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The idea that the old cliche about humanity creating gods in their own image is the actual, literal truth. That belief creates the god rather than the god’s deeds creating the belief.

One of the things that I found marvelous was the character of Al MacBharrais, and just how much he and his companions play with just how many classic tropes from urban fantasy and even from the mystery detective genre from which it partially sprang.

Al is so different from the standard run of urban fantasy protagonists. I have a hard time saying Al is old because he’s the same age that I am, but he’s certainly no spring chicken. He’s led an already long and fairly hard-knock life. He can no longer serve as his own muscle – except in what is inevitably a very painful pinch – but he still needs an enforcer. Like Nero Wolfe needed Archie Goodwin. Or any other case where the “real” detective is no longer quite spry for one reason or another and needs someone to occasionally punch the bad beings where it hurts.

That Al’s version of Archie is a female battle-seer who does double duty as his printing firm’s manager and accountant sets all sorts of tropes on their tiny little heads. She’s great at both cooking the books and conking out their enemies. Also, Nadia’s wizard van is absolutely to die for. She’s also more than able and willing to help a few people – or things, or beings – die when they really, really need to.

The other really fun character in this one is Buck Foi the hobgoblin. The one that Al found in a cage in his dead apprentice’s apartment. When Al opens that cage he also opens up the whole case, and it’s Buck who tags along to help him close it. Because Buck needs the fae trafficking ring shut down in order to remove the price on his head. Buck is the comic relief, but it’s comic relief with one hell of an edge. (Buck reminds me a bit of P.B. from Laura Anne Gilman’s Retrievers series, which was also an awesome urban fantasy. I digress.)

But underneath the paranormal scene-setting, and Buck’s constant scene-stealing, the story is ripped from the headlines. Al’s case is to uncover a fae-trafficking ring, and it’s every bit as nasty as human-trafficking. It also seems to work in a surprisingly similar fashion. And it has to be stopped – and not just because the CIA (really, the actual CIA) is chasing after Al and his friends to silence them.

That Al manages to use some of his not-so-otherworldly connections to help the police shut down a couple of human-trafficking rings adds some real-world drama to this otherworldly story without being heavy-handed about the message. This stuff is evil and needs to be stopped. Period.

Shutting down this one, particular operation still leaves Al with plenty to do in subsequent books in the series. He still has to find out who dropped two seriously awful curses into his life, before those curses wipe out this cohort of his friends and colleagues. So he can keep Nadia and Buck around. So that he can finally manage to train an apprentice to mastery. So that he can talk to the librarian he’s been in love with for years and not have the curse make her hate him and the sound of his voice. As it did with his son.

So there is plenty for Al to be going on with in future books in this series. Hopefully soon!

Review: Queen of the Unwanted by Jenna Glass

Review: Queen of the Unwanted by Jenna GlassQueen of the Unwanted by Jenna Glass
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Women's War #2
Pages: 592
Published by Del Rey Books on May 12, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this feminist fantasy series, the ability to do magic has given women control over their own bodies. But as the patriarchy starts to fall, they must now learn to rule as women, not men.
Alys may be the acknowledged queen of Women's Well—the fledgling colony where women hold equal status with men—but she cares little for politics in the wake of an appalling personal tragedy. It is grief that rules her now. But the world continues to turn.
In a distant realm unused to female rulers, Ellin struggles to maintain control. Meanwhile, the king of the island nation of Khalpar recruits an abbess whom he thinks holds the key to reversing the spell that Alys's mother gave her life to create. And back in Women's Well, Alys's own half-brother is determined to bring her to heel. Unless these women can all come together and embrace the true nature of female power, everything they have struggled to achieve may be at risk.

My Review:

I picked up this book because for the most part I enjoyed the starting book in this series, The Women’s War. But I have to say that I found the message of that first book to sometimes be heavy-handed. Not enough to spoil my enjoyment, but more than enough to make me wonder what would happen next.

Queen of the Unwanted certainly carries on directly from the events in The Women’s War, making it impossible for any reader to start here and make any sense of current events. Or, honestly, to care about what happens to the characters.

This is definitely a middle book, with all the inherent problems therein. Which means not only that you can’t start here, but that it fulfills the sense at the end of the first book, that the situation our heroines, Princess Alysoon of Women’s Well and Queen Ellinsoltah of Rhozinolm are at a point in both of their stories where things are dark and turning darker – quite possibly as a prelude to turning completely black.

So this is a story where more gets revealed but little gets resolved, setting the stage for the third book in the series at some future date. Hopefully not too far in our future, as this is a complicated series which makes picking up the action after a long hiatus a rather daunting affair for the reader.

Although I’ll certainly be back, if only to find out what happens next!

Escape Rating B-: I have to say that this book drove me absolutely bananas – and not always in a good way. I really did want to find out what happened after the earth-shaking events of the first book. But that means I wanted things to actually happen. This entry in the series, being a middle book, means that lots of people are maneuvering, and there is tons of political wrangling and shenanigans, but that in the end, not much happens.

Or at least, not until the very end, when the action suddenly proceeds apace, only to leave readers with multiple terrible book hangovers as they wait for the next book. Whenever it appears. I listened to 80% of this and then read the rest. The audio was interesting enough to keep me occupied while driving, but when things picked up I couldn’t stand to continue at that slow pace.

So, the story is slow going for a lot of its length. Of which there is rather a lot. And there are oodles of political machinations, but they don’t seem to go anywhere for much of the story.

The big message in this one is that old saw about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. The history of this place is that men have had all the power, all the time, and now that women have carved out their own, tiny piece of it the men will do anything to get their absolute domination back.

The message is extremely heavy handed, to the point where it gets overdone. The reader feels a bit bludgeoned by it – as many of the female characters are beaten and degraded on a frequent basis. The treatment of women in this entire world is utterly appalling.

At the same time, the stakes are so high, and yet, particularly in Women’s Well, the behavior of both Princess Alys and her brother Tynthanal feels so petty and selfish. Neither of them seems to be thinking of the greater good of their beleaguered kingdom, but rather railing against all the things that are just not going their way in their personal lives.

And the major villain of the piece does tip into over-the-top-ness and reaches villain fail. Not just that he is so inept he can’t possibly succeed at anything, but that it is amazing that his own country doesn’t depose him early on. He’s not just evil, he’s a bad king and it’s OBVIOUS. He is neither respected nor feared and that should be a short trip to a headsman’s axe.

Instead, he becomes a figure of ridicule, not just to his court but to the reader. He has no self-control; neither over his temper nor his overindulgence in food and drink. His steadily increasing girth is meant to evoke the figure of Henry VIII, but Henry, for all his petulance, was an effective king which Delnamal NEVER is. Instead, the villain’s increasing weight becomes a vehicle for mockery and it just feels wrong.

Speaking of things that feel wrong, one of the points I mentioned in my review of The Women’s War was the utter lack of same-sex relationships. This feels like a world where such relationships would have been frowned upon if not banned, but human nature happens. There’s a whole spectrum of it that isn’t happening here in circumstances like the all-male army barracks and the all-female abbeys for unwanted women where it feels like it would have.

I know I’m complaining a lot about a book that I gave a B- rating to. I liked this story. I liked the first book better but I’m still very interested in seeing what happens. Even if it drives me crazy yet again.

Review: The Women’s War by Jenna Glass

Review: The Women’s War by Jenna GlassThe Women's War (Women's War, #1) by Jenna Glass
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Women's War #1
Pages: 560
Published by Del Rey Books on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a high fantasy feminist epic, a revolutionary spell gives women the ability to control their own fertility—with consequences that rock their patriarchal society to its core.

When a nobleman’s first duty is to produce a male heir, women are treated like possessions and bargaining chips. But as the aftereffects of a world-altering spell ripple out physically and culturally, women at last have a bargaining chip of their own. And two women in particular find themselves at the crossroads of change.

Alys is the widowed mother of two teenage children, and the disinherited daughter of a king. Her existence has been carefully proscribed, but now she discovers a fierce talent not only for politics but also for magic—once deemed solely the domain of men. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, young Ellin finds herself unexpectedly on the throne after the sudden death of her grandfather the king and everyone else who stood ahead of her in the line of succession. Conventional wisdom holds that she will marry quickly, then quietly surrender the throne to her new husband…. Only, Ellin has other ideas.

The tensions building in the two kingdoms grow abruptly worse when a caravan of exiled women and their escort of disgraced soldiers stumbles upon a new source of magic in what was once uninhabitable desert. This new and revolutionary magic—which only women can wield—threatens to tear down what is left of the patriarchy. And the men who currently hold power will do anything to fight back.

My Review:

There are books that become touchstones, not just in our reading lives, but in our real ones as well. The first explicitly feminist fantasy/science fiction book that I read was The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper, over 30 years ago. And I still remember just how shook I was by the ending.

But because that book is such a touchstone for me, my first impression of The Women’s War was just how much it reminded me of The Gate to Women’s Country. (Whether the older book wears well I have no idea – and no desire to find out. It meant what it meant to me at the time, and what I think now is about how it made me feel and what it made me think back then. I’m aware that time has (hopefully) moved on but that books are static, and I’ll leave it at that.)

At the same time, it also reminds me of the much more recent The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons, in that very little of what appears on the surface has more than a passing resemblance to what is going on underneath and behind the scenes. And that the best laid plans of mice, men and women go all too oft astray.

The Women’s War, both the book and the war that eventually engenders within the book, begin with hope – and death. Three women band together to create a spell that they hope in its aftermath will give the women of their world more agency than they currently have – which is none.

They are all willing to pay the ultimate price – they will all die in the hope that they give their sisters – in one case her actual, literal sister – a chance at a better life. Eventually. They know the price between now and then will be bloody – beginning with their own.

In a world where women have no voice, no agency, and no purposes except to either breed heirs or be sex slaves, the far reaching spell cast by three disgraced priestesses gives ALL the women in the world two powers. The first causes the most immediate damage. From that moment forward, a woman can only become pregnant if SHE truly wants the child.

A lot of women have miscarriages that night, as their children were conceived in either duty or rape. A lot of men are beyond furious at having lost “their” rightful heirs. A lot of women are also heartbroken – but their feelings have never counted in this world. Which is the point of the whole story, after all.

And those men all know who to blame. But the women they want to punish are dead and out of their reach. But every other woman can be punished in their place. Which gives rise to the second power. Women who are raped or otherwise abused acquire the ability to cast death spells, spells that used to be the province of men and only men.

The world is going to change, whether the men who make up the patriarchy like it or not.

One woman is the focus of that change, the adult daughter of one of those disgraced priestesses. Alys may have had nothing to do with her mother’s spell, but her vile and jealous half-brother does not care. Indeed, has never cared about anyone or anything besides himself.

As the newly crowned king, he can punish anyone he wants, in any way he wants. He’s just certain that if he beats enough women badly enough, and tortures and kills enough women to make him feel like he is in control of the situation – someone will fix it.

Unless someone fixes him.

Escape Rating A: Unlike most epic fantasy, this first book in the Women’s War series does not end in a happy or triumphant place. It’s more of a “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” kind of a place. But it seems fitting for what feels like just the opening salvo in a very long and extremely dirty war.

The situation at the beginning of this one is dire, not just for our protagonists, but for every woman in every country in this world. The situation is so bleak that the reader completely understands why those women would give their lives in the hope that someday the situation might be better – even though they will not live to see it.

Which does not mean that one of them at least cannot envision the death and destruction that will inevitably occur in their wake.

This is still June, which means this is still Audiobook Month. The Women’s War is another book where I started in audio but finished in ebook. (Let’s just say that I did not hang around in the line when they were passing out patience.) But as much as I couldn’t wait to discover how this story ended, listening to the two female protagonists as they cope with – and sometimes don’t – all of the forces that are arrayed against them, gave their situations a sense of immediacy, and gave me as the reader a strong feeling of empathy.

Both their situations are dreadful, the plight of women in their world is dire, and it makes for a rough read. As readers we feel for them, want things to get better for them, but know all too well that whatever better world may be coming, it’s not there yet, it may never be there for either of them, and that their journeys through their own personal Mordors is going to be damn awful.

Speaking of damn awful, the villain of this piece goes well beyond embodying that term. He comes extremely close to being too far over the top. If he falls over that top without a bit more depth of explanation or personality, the series may reach villain-fail, but it hasn’t yet.

The Women’s War is intended as an explicitly feminist read, an eventual overthrow of the patriarchies that so often dominate epic fantasy. Some readers will question, and rightfully so, why in this story where women’s voices are predominate and particularly in some of the circumstances into which women have been forced, there are no queer women anywhere in the narrative. Just because men saw women’s only purposes as either sex slaves or brood mares does not mean that there wouldn’t be some women who turned to other women for comfort or who desired women exclusively whether any men knew or saw or cared – or most likely did not. In fact, in many of the scenarios described, I would expect to see such women, and there are none. Hopefully this will be addressed, because it’s just not logical at present.

In the end, I have to say that I loved this book. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two protagonists, the young Ellin who is expected to be Queen Figurehead of her country but who plans to be Queen Regnant, and middle-aged Alys, old enough to see just how wrong things are and just how hard it will be to change them – but tries anyway.

I can’t wait to read about the next battles in the Women’s War. I hope to see them both emerge triumphant!

Review: Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S Dawson

Review: Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S DawsonKill the Farm Boy (The Tales of Pell, #1) by Delilah S. Dawson, Kevin Hearne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fairy tales, fantasy
Series: Tales of Pell #1
Pages: 384
Published by Del Rey Books on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In an irreverent new series in the tradition of Terry Pratchett novels and The Princess Bride, the New York Times bestselling authors of the Iron Druid Chronicles and Star Wars: Phasma reinvent fantasy, fairy tales, and floridly written feast scenes.

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a hero, the Chosen One, was born . . . and so begins every fairy tale ever told.

This is not that fairy tale.

There is a Chosen One, but he is unlike any One who has ever been Chosened.

And there is a faraway kingdom, but you have never been to a magical world quite like the land of Pell.

There, a plucky farm boy will find more than he's bargained for on his quest to awaken the sleeping princess in her cursed tower. First there's the Dark Lord who wishes for the boy's untimely death . . . and also very fine cheese. Then there's a bard without a song in her heart but with a very adorable and fuzzy tail, an assassin who fears not the night but is terrified of chickens, and a mighty fighter more frightened of her sword than of her chain-mail bikini. This journey will lead to sinister umlauts, a trash-talking goat, the Dread Necromancer Steve, and a strange and wondrous journey to the most peculiar "happily ever after" that ever once-upon-a-timed.

My Review:

If Robert Asprin’s Myth-Adventures series had a love child with Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, and then if that love child had a child with Monty Python – or possibly a love child with each individual member of Monty Python, all midwifed by The Princess Bride, you might get something like Kill the Farm Boy.

Or you’d get a cheese sandwich. Or possibly both.

On the one hand, the description of this book can easily be read as a fairly typical epic fantasy. A group of adventurers, including a ”chosen one” set out from obscurity to undertake a quest.

But this particular fantasy is fractured from beginning to end. Like so many fantasies, the adventuring party consists of a wizard or two, a rogue, a warrior, a bard and a trusty steed. The opening salvo in the quest is to rescue a fairy tale princess from a sleeping castle. In a twisted cross between Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast.

That beast is a rabbit. Or at least sort of a rabbit. And sort of a girl. The rogue is a klutz, and a not very bright klutz at that. Of the two wizards, neither is exactly the leader of the Light. One fancies himself a budding Dark Lord, and the other is as grey as grey can get – except for her hair, because the natural color of that has been hiding behind magic for decades at the very least.

The dangers they face are life threatening and never ending. But there’s no farm boy in sight. Oh, there was a farm boy all right, but he gets chosen for death relatively early in the story. The real “Chosen One” is the trusty steed, but he’s neither trusty nor exactly a steed. And he likes to eat boots.

If the tongue was any further in the cheek, it would poke out the other side.

Escape Rating C+:Some of the reviewers make the comparison between Kill the Farm Boy and the Discworld. If that comparison holds at all, it’s only between Kill the Farm Boy and the first two Discworld titles, The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, where Sir Terry was merely skewering the genre and not exactly plotting a story. And where he clearly had no clue yet that he was at the beginning of something that needed a real plot, sympathetic characters and at least a bit of internal consistency to wrap around that skewer.

While I love the work of both of this book’s authors, Delilah Dawson for the Blud series and Kevin Hearne for the Iron Druid Chronicles, this collaboration does not live up to either of their previous work, nor to any of the many antecedents I mentioned at the beginning of this review.

And that’s a real pity, because Kill the Farm Boy had so much promise. And it does have its funny moments. But in the end it doesn’t deliver – even though it’s obvious that the co-authors had tons of fun in the process of writing this.

The snark is too thick and the plot is too thin. It reminds me of the lesson that Mike the computer learns in Robert A. Heinlein’s marvelous The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Mike is trying to teach himself humor, and his human friend introduces him to the difference between “funny once” and “funny always”. Kill the Farm Boy attempts to be “funny always” by keeping up a nonstop torrent of snark and in-jokes.

And those are almost always “funny once”.

But we’ll be back in Pell for No Country for Old Gnomes. It took Sir Terry until at least Mort (Discworld #4) for that series to really get its legs under it. Maybe The Tales of Pell will manage to get there a little sooner. We’ll see.

Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

Review: Trapped by Kevin HearneTrapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #5) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: borrowed from library, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #5
Pages: 290
Published by Del Rey Books, Random House Audio on November 27, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.   Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists.

My Review:

I really have a concentration problem this week. I hope it gets better soon, or next week is going to be hell. Then again, the house closing is this afternoon, so afterwards I’ll either have more concentration to read, or a whole lot less. OMG.

I bounced off of three books before I got a clue and decided to finish Trapped. I was in the middle of listening to it during workouts – Atticus certainly makes the treadmill fly by – but was figuring I’d finish in a couple of weeks, one way or another.

It’s now. As I was already literally at the mid-point, I knew I liked the book more than well enough to finish it. And I’m glad I did.

Although it’s really weird that even when I’m reading the book, I still hear it in Luke Daniels’ voice. His voice has become the voice of Atticus O’Sullivan, and I can’t get it out of my head.

Just like the title says, Atticus spends most of this book in one trap or another, and often hounded from one trap to another, and sometimes even trapped within a trap within a trap.

This is also a story about karma being a serious bitch. So many of the people setting traps for Atticus are people that he seriously pissed off somewhere along the way.

Not that the traps aren’t ingenious and that Atticus’ escape from them isn’t interesting and occasionally epic, but everything that happens in Trapped is pretty much all stuff that he brought upon himself.

After all, back in Hammered, Jesus and Ganesha both told him not to go to Asgard. Or at least not to go with the band of revenge seeking deities, immortals and supernatural badasses he took with him. They told him that no good was ever going to come of that mess – and they were right.

In addition to bringing on Ragnarok AND killing off a whole bunch of the Norse gods who were supposed to get in its way, Atticus also managed to get Bacchus honked off at him back in Hexed. And he’s been redirecting the blame for many of his less than savory actions onto the Svartalfar for centuries. Word was bound to get back to them – eventually.

So all of Atticus’ sky-is-falling chickens come home to roost just when he needs a few months of peace in a nice cave in friendly woods so he can finally bind his apprentice Granuaille into her power. So she can finally stop being his apprentice so they can shag each other blind for a few days.

Oberon is right, human mating rituals are weird and occasionally stupid. But it’s up to the Irish wolfhound to help keep his humans safe from everything that’s after them – even if evil, mesmerizing steaks just happen to drop into his path.

Escape Rating B+: Like all of the Iron Druid Chronicles so far, Trapped is a lot of fun. It also feels like a story that closes off a chapter, so it’s not a good place to start the series. Go back to Hounded, which is not only the first book but also the one that is nearly all joy and snark. Atticus’ world gets continually darker from that point. Not that there aren’t still plenty of moments of joy and epic amounts of snark.

But Atticus kills a god in Hounded, and his life is never the same after that.

Trapped is a story where Atticus is forced to reap a whole lot of what he’s sowed. The Norse want him to pay a blood price for killing the Norns, Thor and Heimdall. Since they won’t be available to play their parts in Ragnarok, Atticus needs to take their place. All of their places, which is not going to be an easy job.

Bacchus is after him because Atticus killed a whole bunch of his baccantes back in Hexed. He had a good reason, but Bacchus is just not the understanding type.

Atticus own pantheon, the fae in Tír na nÓg, aren’t happy with him because they see him as being on the “wrong” side in their own little bit of internecine warfare. And they’re peeved because he successfully pretended to be dead for several years. Nobody likes being fooled – especially a deity.

The vampires are after him because as a druid he knows how to unbind them – meaning kill them. The vampires are the reason that Atticus has been the only druid in the world for past millennia – and they are not giving up on their purge now – especially because Atticus is about to bind a new druid to the earth.

And for the past millennia or so, every time Atticus has needed someone to blame for something he did, he’s blamed the Svartalfar, the dark elves. They’ve finally found out – and found Atticus.

Under the principle of the “enemy of my enemy is at least my ally”, all of these groups are working together to wipe Atticus off the face of the Earth, and any other plane he manages to escape to.

The scene where an entire clown parade turns into Svartalfar and chases after Atticus, Granuaille and Oberon is particularly creepy.

So the story in Trapped is a story of running hither, tither and yon, and then back again. It’s also a story that feels like it’s one gigantic interruption. Every time they settle down to take care of Granuaille’s bindings, another faction is led to them and disrupts the work. Which makes this very much an “out of the frying pan into the fire” kind of story.

And it’s a fun one.

Fair warning, it ends on a cliffhanger of truly epic proportions! But that’s OK, because I’ve already got Hunted queued up and ready to go!